Mr. Speaker, I assume we are speaking technically against the amendment introduced by the member from the Alliance, that the amount be reduced to $0.01 from $0.4375. I certainly am speaking against that amendment, but I am also speaking against the increase from $0.375 that was originally proposed by the government House leader when he introduced this legislation.
The price of democracy has risen over the course of the weekend. What was to be $1.50 per vote per year to each of the political parties has now, according to the amendments that are in front of us in Group No.1 of this section, risen to $1.75.
I recall well the government House leader, when he was before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and when he introduced this bill, saying that the government officials had looked very closely at the returns over the past several years of all the political parties as to the total global amounts of money they received from trade unions, corporations and other associations by way of donations and that he was quite confident in what he reported to the committee on that occasion, that at $1.50 per vote per year, no political party would suffer financial injury as a result of that.
What has transpired in the last three months that now we come back at report stage and the $1.50 has climbed 25¢ to $1.75?
I have only been around here for six years. I do not recall one occasion when an organization or a request for money has come to the government that the government actually has turned around and given more than was ever requested. I find it passing strange that on this occasion the $1.50 becomes $1.75. I can only assume, as we have heard throughout this, that there has been a lot of in-fighting in the Liberal Party. The president of the party, Mr. LeDrew, has said that this whole idea was as dumb as a bag of hammers. We know, as has been alluded to by other speakers ahead of me today, that the Liberal Party has a significant debt, and so to extract another 25¢ from the taxpayer is no big deal, except that the members opposite ought to be hanging their heads in shame.
The other part of this, which I do not think anyone has touched upon so far, is that of course this money will all be, what they call in labour management negotiations, front-end loaded for the first go around. In other words, when the $1.75, on which we will be voting at some point, comes into effect for the purpose of the first go around on the legislation, when the bill comes into effect on January 1, 2004, all the political parties will receive $1.75 in a lump sum payment, as opposed to quarterly payments of 43¢ which would represent $1.75 in four annual instalments. Each of the political parties will receive their full allotment based upon how well, or less well, they performed in the 2000 election campaign. The Liberals already would have received over $8 million, and at $1.50, we can do the math and figure out what that will mean for them. It will certainly mean more money and it will be the termination of the Liberal debt as it heads into an election, which we undoubtedly will have within the next 12 months.
Those are real concerns. I want to make it clear that this party supports Bill C-24, the election financing act, in principle. We believe there are many good features in the bill. We think it could be a lot better. It does not need to be test driven to find out where some of the flaws are going to be.
For example, we believe and have said repeatedly that there should be no opportunity for trade union or corporate financing in this legislation. The only group of people who should be able to donate to politics are those who will be or are eligible to vote. We think that is a good principle.
We fought the notion of allowing any donations from trade unions, corporations and associations. We note that the amounts are relatively small, $1,000 per year, and none of that money can go to a political party. It all has to go to a candidate or a riding association from corporations, trade unions and associations.
However a very unlevel playing field has been allowed to occur. We tried to address it with our motions but they were ruled out of order. We tried it at clause by clause. The issue is the definition of how corporations and trade unions are defined.
As I said, our first preference was to eliminate all of that money. However if we are going to have, admittedly, modest amounts of money, then we believe that trade union locals should be able to donate $1,000 per year. They have their own bylaws and elect their own officers. They have money at their disposal and ought to be part of the electoral process, just like a Tim Hortons franchise or a General Motors franchise could and would be allowed to do.
When we look at the facts and figures, there are about 16,600 union locals in Canada, but when we look at the number of incorporated businesses in Canada, there are more than one million of them. As I said, this is a very unlevel playing field. We have tried without success to have the government see this, to have the government even take the general definition of a trade union under the Canada Labour Code. If it applied that definition to this legislation, then the locals would indeed be able to participate in the electoral process, just the same as a doughnut franchise or a DaimlerChrysler dealership.
However the government has taken a very narrow definition where it lumps all the locals together. This to us is very unfortunate and I think it points out a fundamental flaw. As I say, the bill does not need to be test driven to find out where the flaws are. They stick out like a sore thumb.
Another area for which we feel very strongly is the whole area of trust funds. In the course of clause by clause analysis, clause 71 of Bill C-24 was deleted. This, in effect, would have allowed those members of Parliament who have trust funds now, some of which are very sizeable, to simply launder that money into their riding association over the next six months with no questions asked. Therefore, on January 1, 2004, when the legislation takes effect, none of the sources of this money will have to be disclosed. We find that extremely unfortunate. We believe that clause 71 should have remained intact and that those funds, which have been held by perhaps half a dozen or 10 members of Parliament who have trust funds that we are aware of through public knowledge and public information, should have been in the bill and should have had to have been reported prior to January 1, 2004. That will not happen. It is another shortcoming of the bill.
On the positive side, reducing the amount that an individual can contribute from $10,000 to $5,000, is good on balance, although I would concur with my colleague from the Conservatives where we have allowed wealthier candidates to be able to put in $10,000 if they are running for office.
We will be speaking more about these as we get into report stage further, but those are our initial observations.